01 Sep Patrick Evoe, Pro Triathlete and Coach, Shares Tips for Running Faster Off the Bike:
Many athletes struggle in races to run splits off the bike which reflect their true running ability. There can be many reasons for this: over biking, poor race nutrition, or improper training to prepare for running off the bike. Here I’ll talk about the last point, training to run off the bike.
Traditionally triathletes have focused on the infamous “brick” workouts in training. Their appropriate name signified that your legs feel like bricks as you start your run off the bike. The problem many triathletes encounter is that they execute their brick workouts week after week in the same way without purpose other than only to run off the bike. As with everything in our training, if you want to improve, you need purpose and specificity to these sessions if you want to reap their benefits.
First off, I don’t like to use the industry term “brick” because it has the negative connotations that your legs will feel terrible and heavy. While running off the bike never gets easy, I prefer to change my mindset that it’s a negative experience. I simply call it a run off the bike. If you haven’t over biked and your race fueling has been good, then the biggest hurtle to running off the bike is neuromuscular. I think of it as simply changing gears in your car. If you train your body, then it will be easy to switch your body’s gears from biking to running. In cycling, you’re using your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip flexors in a very specific way for a long time. Your muscles have been firing in a specific pattern your entire bike ride. They’ve also fatigued in a way that’s proportional to how you’ve used them. Then all of a sudden, you’re asking your body to use them in a different way with a different firing pattern. This is why I see the trick to running off the bike as neuromuscular. The more you train your brain/body connection to recognize and make the change from biking to running, the faster you will get into your stride off the bike.
As I said before many triathletes run off the bike without purpose. They get done with their Saturday long ride and slog out a run just to do it. There is some value to this. First, you get used to the feeling of running off the bike. Also you are helping your body to make that adaptation. But there are faster and better ways to do this. Earlier in the season or at the beginning of a training block, I will just run off the bike easy and by feel for a few weeks. This is just to acclimate myself to the sensations. After a few weeks of that, I will run with specific sessions off the bike.
The problem with slogging out a run off the bike it that you’re training your body to do exactly that in a race. To combat this, I do mostly race pace or faster running off the bike. I also don’t think it’s needed to do long running off the bike. You’re looking to train your body to make that neurological shift to running, so that should happen in the first few miles. Rarely do I ever run more than 45 minutes off the bike. Most of the time it’s 30 minutes or less. I get faster in my run specific training, so running too long off the bike only makes me more tired so I’m not as sharp in my other. Keep it short and sweet so you get the benefits and then shut it down for the day.
One tool I think is great for running off the bike is a treadmill. It’s great because you can force your body to turn over your legs faster than you want to after the bike. If you jump on the treadmill after your bike session and set it for your race pace, your legs will run that fast or you will fall off! Normally that first mile doesn’t feel good, but then the pace will start to feel more natural (if you’ve been training for that pace in your regular running training). Another great use of the treadmill is to use it to make your race pace feel easy. Try a few minutes at your goal race pace off the bike, then take a short 30 seconds rest and then go into a set of fast turn over strides. Again set the treadmill for faster than you’re ready to run (and much faster than your goal race pace) and do some short 30 second sets with equal rest. Then you can go back into your race pace and it will feel natural. The treadmill is a great tool for forcing you to not be able to just slog it out off the bike.
On the road, you can also do sets to get your body into your race pace. After your bike, you can do a fartlek or swing set where you run for a short period faster than your race pace, then switch back to your race pace. Swing back and forth for short bits, let’s say a couple minutes faster than race pace, then go back to your race pace. I’ve also used a track for the same purpose so I can control my pace better off the bike. Try parking your car at the track. When you finish your bike ride, put your bike in the car and go out on the track and start running short bits faster than your race pace. Try an 800 faster than race pace, then back off and do 800 at race pace, jog 400 easy. Repeat that three times and you have a great 3+ mile run off the bike.
How you fuel yourself for your run off the bike is also an important factor in how well you run and recover from that training session. You need to take in calories quickly as you would in a race, either as you’re finishing your bike ride, or while you’re changing to go out for your run. One reason for this is that you want to practice to make sure your fuel consumption as you transition from bike to run works for you. You don’t want to try anything new or any surprises on race day. Also, you need to think about your run as an extension of your bike workout for fueling purposes. Even if it’s only a 15-30 minute run, you need to think of your fueling in terms of it’s a 4 hour workout (if you had a 3.5 hour bike before that run). Also, the less you completely deplete your glycogen stores in your workout, the faster you will recover and be fresher for your next workout. For these reasons, fueling needs to be a part of your post-bike running plan
One aspect of the XRCEL product that I love is that I can drink a bottle and start running hard right away. It doesn’t give me any sloshy stomach or GI distress, so I can use it as I’m transitioning from bike to run. In training, as I’m changing from my bike to running clothes for these types of sessions, I will drink a bottle of XRCEL and jump right into the workout. Even if it’s a short run off the bike, remember that your glycogen stores have been depleted on that bike ride, so you need to keep pumping the extended release calories into your system.
These are some techniques I’ve used in the past to help train my body to run faster off the bike. It’s quite simple: to run faster off the bike, you have to run faster off the bike! Try incorporating these into your training and get yourself out of the mentality of the grinding brick and I think you will be pleasantly surprised on race day!
Patrick Evoe is a professional triathlete and an XRCEL ambassador. He is an Ironman and Ironman 70.3 winner, as well as 8x full Ironman podium finisher. He brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge with nearly a decade of professional Ironman racing and 30 full Ironman finishes. You can find more information about Patrick on his website http://www.parickevoe.com,/ as well as his social media: Twitter – @patrickevoe , Facebook – /patrickevoeracing.